Columbia Public Schools leaders will spend the next month figuring out if it is possible – and feasible – to stagger new start times under a recommendation from Superintendent Dr. Chris Belcher that has high school classes starting at 9 a.m.
The current recommendation has middle school starting at 7:30 a.m. for the 2013-2014 school year. Then six elementary schools – Lee, Midway Heights, New Haven, Ridgeway and Benton, Rock Bridge, and Two Mile Prairie – starting at 7:40 a.m. The remaining elementary schools would start at 8:20 a.m, with the three high schools starting at 9 a.m.
At a school board meeting Monday night, Belcher told the board he and district principals would take one month to look at how to make that schedule work. He asked the board to agree to vote on the above schedule at their next meeting in March.
Some of the challenges include working around extracurricular activities that use after school time for practices or meetings as well as athletic event times. Belcher said the district had met with state athletic and education leaders about meeting requirements and there would not be too many hurdles. One option would allow students to come to a high school class early and then be released early for extracurriculars. Another would make use of “blended courses,” mixing some students in a lecture and others online, then swapping places.
The start time changes have caused loud outpouring of both support and concern for months now in Columbia. District leaders and the school board of said changing demographics and the addition of several schools – including turning junior high into middle schools – has created a need to re-evaluate busing and transportation to keep costs down and get better quality.
“Bottom line is, there was not a perfect solution, ” Belcher told ABC 17 News Monday night. “The [earlier] start time was just unacceptable by a lot of people. It didn’t meet the research for a lot of people.”
An original proposal had the middle schools and high schools flipped – with 9-12 grade students starting around 7:20 a.m. Public outcry and student concern, as well as several sleep studies showing improved performance with later start times, all but ended that proposal. In all, the district has looked at six bell schedules.
If four or more members of the board approve the plan in March, it would make Columbia Public Schools one of the only districts in the country to use that kind of high school schedule. Belcher says that does not play a role in their decision to pursue the new schedule.
“Maybe we’re on to something,” he said. “We’re going to take a risk.”